In Zimbabwe, biobanking awareness and knowledge is limited. Most existing activities are isolated individual efforts, sometimes without adequate ethical, legal, and governance frameworks and with limited scientific and technical knowledge and expertise. To change this, the African Institute of Biomedical Science and Technology (AiBST) hosted a biobanking course that included research scientists, health care professionals and regulatory authorities. The aim of the course was to combine education, training and knowledge-sharing with engagement, group work and open debate on how best to establish and run biobanks. Matimba et al. (2016) reported on the course, which aimed to support health care and biomedical research in Zimbabwe.1
Lectures ran for 12 hours and included topics such as overall infrastructure needs, fundamental concepts of good biobanking practice, and how to establish and run a biobank. Lectures also discussed governance and management requirements, using qualified staff, and the importance of building trusting collaborations between health care providers and research institutions. Experts presented on issues related to sample quality, standardizing information, and controlling specimen collection, transport conditions, processing, storage and distribution to analytical platforms. Additionally, presenters drew attention to the need for standard operating procedures, quality management systems, and standards and quality assurance as part of best practices guidelines.
The authors noted that the course had a particular focus on context of research and capacity-building networks such as Human Heredity and Health in Africa (H3Africa) and the Biobank and Cohort Building Network (BCNet). They specifically discussed ways in which biobanking could be used, practically, in Zimbabwe with regards to biobanking genomics and pharmacogenomics.
During interactive group sessions, participants developed theoretical frameworks for a number of aspects of biobanking, and then performed SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analyses of their own frameworks. From these sessions, participants agreed on the following:
- Biobanks are invaluable resources, and creating a national network would build enable health care and research groups to build procedural commonality.
A sustainable biobank framework must be based on a professional organization and include health and research professionals with a clear public transparency.
Zimbabwe has a strong and functional health care system and the potential for well-educated people to be trained in biobanking.
- Zimbabwe needs a clear regulatory and policy framework that supports biobanking for transnational networks and multicenter projects.
Parcipants also established working groups to address biobanking definitions and scope, biobank governance, bioethical guidelines, infrastructural and technical requirements, financial requirements, and intellectual property.
The authors note that the course was a first step in bringing together health professionals and researchers to build biobanking capacity in Zimbabwe. There remain technicalities around more advanced biobanking issues, specific to Zimbabwe, such as high ambient temperature, poor transport logistics and an unreliable power supply. They also acknowledge that Zimbabwe will need a leadership team to drive biobanking beyond the course. Nonetheless, Matimba et al. state that the course was highly successful, with potential future opportunities to collaborate with existing African-focused network initiatives such as H3Africa and BCNET.
1. Matimba, A., at al. (2016) “Practical approach to biobanking in Zimbabwe: Establishment of an inclusive stakeholder framework,” Biopreservation and Biobanking [Epub ahead of print].